Making royal propaganda from the cave II

15 07 2018

While PPT refrained from commentary on the remarkably uplifting cave rescue, we have said a few things about its use for palace propaganda purposes (here, here and here). Our point has been to point out that the kind of royal propaganda is nothing new, but that this is an opportunity for the palace to boost the image of the new king in ways that are not all that different from his father. Royalism is so deeply embedded in the military and bureaucracy that there is a constant search for opportunities to make the monarch look good, kind, generous, loving of his people, etc.

The latest efforts have involved both a familiar pattern and one that strikes us as somewhat new. The familiar involves the promotion of the former Navy diver who died in the cave and providing a royally-sponsored funeral ceremony. If academic Serhat Unaldi referred to something called “working towards the monarchy,” this propaganda exercise kind of reverses the process, allowing the monarchy to gain credit from the death of someone considered popular, a hero or worthy in other ways. Such actions are not always simple and cynical efforts by the palace but invariably bestow considerable credit on the monarch.

Governor Narongsak

The less familiar involves something we noted in our first comment on the efforts in Chiang Rai. In that post we observed the dress of Governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn. Initially in the search, he appeared in a “loyalty” outfit. Appearing appropriately loyal is required in royalist Thailand under the military dictatorship. At the time, we thought he might be wearing a sky blue Snoopy cap,along with a yellow scarf.

In fact, the cap bears the king’s rather childlike cartoon figures which also recently appeared on shirts. He wasn’t the only one wearing the outfit in the early days of the cave drama. Narongsak seemed to ditch the outfit as the search became very serious and he handled himself commendably. So did others.

However, after the huge elation following the successful rescue of those in the cave, the blue caps and yellow scarves are back in big numbers. As hundreds showed up to volunteer to assist in the cave area clean-up, it seems that they were all provided with these symbols of loyalty. Remarkably, the regimented volunteers all managed to show up in very similar yellow shirts.

This “uniform” was also on show in some of the very early pictures that came from the boating tragedy in Phuket where 48 persons seem to have perished. It seems that the idea of associating monarchy with a tragedy saw the “uniform” ditched.

The Bangkok Post has a some pictures from Chiang Rai following the joyous outcome there. The “uniform” is de rigueur. We clipped one of those here.

Way off in the distance in the photo is the picture of the king that the volunteers are saluting, all lined up in their identical outfits. It is clear that there’s a palace propaganda effort underway. Yellow and sky blue are the kings chosen colors.





Ünaldi review available for free download

13 06 2015

A reader has told us that Serhat Ünaldi’s review of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s A Kingdom in Crisis is now available for free download at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We looked, and it is.





A Kingdom in Crisis reviewed VIII

26 05 2015

It is some time since we posted on the initial reviews of Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s book A Kingdom in Crisis: Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Earlier reviews can be found here.

At the Journal of Contemporary Asia, there is a new and longer review, by academic Serhat Ünaldi. Unfortunately, the review is currently behind a pay wall, so we try to give a feeling for it here.Kingdom in crisis

The review draws comparisons between the excitement surrounding the publication of the acclaimed book by Paul Handley, The King Never Smiles in 2006 and the reaction to the publication of A Kingdom in Crisis. Ünaldi argues that Marshall’s book is an “important contribution.” He states that “it informs a wide audience about the damaging political role of the monarchy…”. The reviewer is less happy, however, with what he says is the author’s failure to adequately acknowledge “an already existing corpus of literature that deals critically with Thailand’s monarchy.”

Handley was also criticized for failing to acknowledge a wider literature, yet that criticism was less significant in 2006 than it is now, 10 years after and with far more critical work being readily available.

Ünaldi is also critical of the “focus on the succession as the key factor in the ongoing political crisis…”. The reviewer argues that this focus “is unnecessarily narrow and should have been complemented by an analysis of structural forces as drivers of change.”





Palace coups

10 12 2014

PPT has just noticed a “birthday celebration” article on the king and politics in The Atlantic magazine. It makes some interesting points and shows how international commentators have become far more wary of simply reproducing palace propaganda than was the case even in the recent past.

For that change, we can credit the efforts of authors Paul Handley and Andrew MacGregor Marshall, and academics Serhat Unaldi, Patrick Jory, Michael Connors, Thongchai Winichakul, Kevin Hewison, Duncan McCargo and others. Activists like Ji Ungpakorn, Rose Amornpat, Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Junya Yimprasert and others have also changed the monarchy discourse. And, perhaps, PPT and blogs like New Mandala have also changed perceptions.

Yet the story also evidences some confusions.

Beginning by noting that the king was a no-show for his promised birthday speech. It makes nothing of this, which is odd. Given the fanfare about the aged, frail and largely incomprehensible king coming out of hospital to make a speech, that event would have been a “coup” for the military dictatorship. But the report wants to make another point:

With nearly seven decades in power, Bhumibol is the world’s longest-serving head of state—and he’s somehow achieved this milestone in a country that has seen more coups than most any other. By one count, there have been 10 since Bhumibol assumed the throne after his brother, the previous king, was found shot in the head in 1946. As elected leaders and military juntas have come and gone in Thailand with a frequency unrivaled in the world, King Bhumibol has held on at the very top, and he is frequently described as a “unifying force” in a country with deep political divisions. How has he done it?

Much in this is odd. First, it is odd that the question of who shot the king’s brother is not made. It is now a widely-held view, as it was at the time amongst diplomats, that the present king shot his brother, probably by accident. Second, the claim made seems to be that the king has been a coup survivor. That is a very odd claim. Indeed, for almost all the military putsches during his reign, the king and palace have been actively involved with the coup-makers and, in some cases, the palace has been involved in planning and making the military intervention. Surviving a partnership with the military is far easier and more profitable than opposing each illegal military coup.

The article says that the king “survived” these military interventions, not because he was a part of them, but because he is “genuinely popular.” Remarkably, in making this point, The Atlantic cites Paul Handley, who is quoted: “He’s shown himself as really a man of his people…”. The article continues:

Listed by Forbes as the world’s richest monarch, worth some $30 billion in 2011, Bhumibol has presented himself as a friend to Thailand’s poor, with well-publicized efforts to improve rural development, health care, and education. A combination of authentic dedication and professional image management, Handley told me, have helped build up a strong reputation for the king over a period of decades.

If these are accurate quotes, and we think they are taken out of context, then PPT reckons that there’s a confusing of ideology and reality.  As is later stated: “The law also makes the monarchy’s own role in Thailand’s coups—many of which, Handley wrote in his book, ‘took place in the throne’s name and with the palace’s quiet nod’—difficult to discuss publicly within the country.” Indeed, the palace has been more deeply involved than this suggests.

In any case, as the article says, “it’s not quite that simple, and it’s impossible to know exactly how popular, or how unpopular, the king really is. Thailand criminalizes speaking ill of the royal family…. The [lese majeste] law may help protect the king’s image and reinforce his popularity, but their enforcement also provides an imperfect window into the anti-monarch sentiment that exists in the kingdom.”

It quotes David Streckfuss, who states that the number of lese-majeste cases has “skyrocketed to never-imaginable heights…”. Readers of PPT will know that the number of cases has gone up even further since then, with the military dictatorship using the law more feverishly than any government since the law was established in the early 20th century. Noting just one of these cases, the article states:

The law is now being employed by Thailand’s ruling military junta, which took power in a coup in May, to suppress dissent and demonstrate the military’s allegiance to the popular monarch. Just this week, a former member of parliament was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for comments made in a May speech entitled “Stop Overthrowing Democracy.”

Indeed, that speech made the palace-military link clear in recent military interventions. Under the royalist military dictatorship, facts are replaced by myth, and the enforcement of myth is vigorous.





Middle-class politics

8 11 2014

Serhat Ünaldi is Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and is one of the author’s of the Foundation’s Asia Policy Brief Asian Middle Classes – Drivers of Political Change? (opens a PDF).

The lightly-referenced report is the subject of Ünaldi’s article at The Diplomat on “The Tyranny of SE Asia’s Establishment.” It begins with the claim that “The ‘old middle class’ in Southeast Asia is turning against democracy in a bid to protect its interests.”

The analysis that rejects some older modernization theory claims, suggests that “a substantial middle-income population does not translate into a healthier state of democracy in any straightforward manner.” It also notes the “diversity” of a class defined only by income level.

The article looks beyond Thailand, but as we are Thailand-focused, we thought the comments on the country of interest:

Anti-democratic protests in Thailand were likewise driven by an urban-based middle class with fond memories of a time when Thai generals ruled the kingdom in tandem with the monarchy. Democratic support, in contrast, seemed to come from members of the emerging lower middle class in the provinces.

The notion that there is a provincial-urban split on politics in the middle class may be descriptively accurate for a particular period in Thailand, but it too ignores the diversity of the middle class and the contingent nature of support for democracy amongst all classes. Still, worth a read.





On being in the network

9 07 2014

Some years ago, academic Duncan McCargo came up with the descriptive notion of a “network monarchy.” By this he meant a “form of governance operating in Thailand” that considered the “political order is characterized by network-based politics. From 1973 to 2001, Thailand’s leading political network was that of the reigning monarch, King Bhumibol.” He adds that this approach means the:

monarch will be presented as the central component of a rather novel mode of governance, best understood in terms of political networks. Thailand’s ‘network monarchy’ is centred on Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanond. Network monarchy is a form of semi-monarchical rule: the Thai King and his allies have forged a modern form of monarchy as a para-political institution.

 McCargo says the:

main features of Thailand’s network monarchy from 1980 to 2001 were as follows: the monarch was the ultimate arbiter of political decisions in times of crisis; the  monarchy was the primary source of national legitimacy; the King acted as a didactic commentator on national issues, helping to set the national agenda, especially through his annual birthday speeches; the monarch intervened actively in political developments, largely by working through proxies such as privy councillors and trusted military figures; and the lead proxy, former army commander and prime minister Prem Tinsulanond, helped determine the nature of coalition governments, and monitored the process of military and other promotions. At heart, network governance of this kind relied on placing the right people (mainly, the right men) in the right jobs.

Academic Serhat Ünaldi took a slightly different tack, talking of “working towards the monarchy” which he says,

refers to actions by individuals or groups who aim at expanding and/or protecting the sacred charisma of the monarchy. In turn, the monarchy’s sacred charisma serves as the most potent source of symbolic capital in Thailand. It legitimises the accumulation of other forms of capital, most notably economic capital, for the benefit of the person or group performing the actions.

So how does the network who deal on the monarchy work? Almost no one, apart from insiders knows, but a small window has just been opened. Bloomberg has a great story by former Sondhi Limthongkul employee William Mellor that sheds some light on the network and the benefits it provides. I t concerns William Heinecke, a billionaire American-turned-Thai businessman who is said to have spent a “lifetime betting on turbulent Thailand” and doing very nicely.William Heinecke

But has it been a bet? Or were there significant supports in place that allowed him to “work towards the monarchy” or even allowed him entry to the fabled network? The very first line in the article sets a reader thinking that this man has the protection he needs, for in his penthouse with “spa, a wine cellar, a marble staircase” he also has “memorabilia that includes a costume worn by Yul Brynner in the Broadway musical The King and I.” The King and I is banned in Thailand. Think of the woman being threatened with lese majeste because she used “long live” the wrong way! Bill’s either got big balls or plenty of support and protection.

It is the latter, for he has repeatedly spoken out in support of royalist Thailand and did so again following the coup. He says the coup and military dictatorship is “like a rebooting of the system,” which is the anti-democrat line from 2006 and 2014. He adds: “The government had come to a standstill. There would have been continued political conflict if the military hadn’t stepped in. Democracy will eventually be returned to the people, as has always happened in the past.” But what kind of “democracy.” As a wealthy businessman, working towards the network, he wants a democracy that preserves his political and economic power and that of the network.

Yes, he’s protecting his business interests which are all services and rely heavily on tourism and consumption, but he’s speaking for and to the network.

Heinecke “surrendered his U.S. passport for Thai citizenship in 1991” and created “a multinational hotel, restaurant and retail empire that has survived five previous military takeovers, the 1997-to-1998 Asian financial crisis, a deadly 2004 tsunami that swept away one of his resorts and bruising corporate skirmishes with foes as powerful as Goldman Sachs Group Inc.”

How did he get started? Here’s the key:

Perhaps no foreign-born investor has made a bigger personal bet on Thailand than Heinecke. As a U.S. diplomat’s son studying at the International School Bangkok in 1967, he resisted parental pressure to return home to enroll at Washington’s Georgetown University.

Instead, at age 17, he borrowed $1,200 and set up an office-cleaning company. By the time he became a Thai citizen, Heinecke had forged business ties with the royal family’s asset managers by leasing crown land on which he built hotels.

“Bill struck me as a go-getter but also as an honest person,” says Usni Pramoj, who heads the office that manages the king’s private property and who signed the first such deal in 1976.

“It was the start of a long and trusting relationship,” Heinecke wrote….

The Crown Property Bureau claims to have supported a 27-year-old American get started. They must have seen remarkable potential. He’s paid them back in bucket loads, and not just with political capital. The story points out:

Since bottoming during the Asian financial crisis in January 1998, Minor stock has soared 50-fold — more than 10 times the return of the SET Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This year as of July 8, it has risen 49 percent compared with a 16 percent gain in the benchmark gauge.

A prime beneficiary of Minor’s surge is Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who owns 2 percent of the company in his own name. Another 4 percent is held by other royal family members and the Crown Property Bureau, the monarchy’s money manager — putting the value of the royal holdings at $227 million.

Remarkably, the story states that a man who “speaks barely 100 words of their language,” managed to pass the Thai-language test to get residence and citizenship. Or maybe he just had a powerful reference. He’s certainly trusted by the CPB:

Just how trusting became clear in 1999, when another of the monarchy’s money managers, the Crown Property Bureau, helped Heinecke thwart Goldman Sachs’s $46 million hostile takeover of Rajadamri Hotel Pcl, owner of the Bangkok property then known as the Regent and since renamed the Four Seasons.

The hotel stands on land owned by the royal family, and Heinecke, who controlled 25 percent of Rajadamri’s shares, rallied the property bureau and other stockholders to his side. Goldman finally ended up with only a 41 percent stake and, in 2003, sold out to Heinecke for $19 million.

“Goldman’s offer was higher than Bill’s, but Bill’s PR machine was better,” Thadani says. “He persuaded other shareholders the hotel was a sacred Thai asset that mustn’t fall into foreign hands.” Edward Naylor, Goldman’s Hong Kong–based spokesman, declined to comment.

Being inside the magic circle in Thailand, be it network or something else, can be very lucrative and rewarding, for both sides.

 

 





The monarchy and its discontents

30 05 2014

Some time ago, PPT posted twice regarding an academic paper by Serhat Unaldi at the Journal of Contemporary Asia. We have just noticed that it is now available for free download having previously been behind a paywall.

The abstract is: This article examines the desacralisation of royal charisma in contemporary Thailand. Over the past few years an underground discourse has emerged among critics of royal ideology and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that directly confronts the power of the monarchy. The images, metaphors and linguistic devices used in the process are difficult to study because they rarely appear in public. This article focuses on an unprecedented demonstration of rage against the monarchy on September 19, 2010, when red-shirted demonstrators painted anti-royal graffiti on a construction hoarding at Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok. In analysing the Thai political crisis as a battle of different charismatic groups, the article will present the September 19 event as the first open strike against the sacred charisma of the Thai monarchy. This charisma has hitherto been protected by royalists from all walks of life who were “working towards the monarchy.” With their attacks on the monarchy the red-shirts were challenging a legitimacy-conferring system which had benefited wide sections of the Bangkok populace in the past. At the same time, a competing charismatic movement has emerged around Thaksin, who himself has to take into account the charisma he conferred upon his followers.

 





Anti-monarchy graffiti and royal wealth II

19 10 2013

This post continues PPT’s summary of the academic article “Working Towards the Monarchy and its Discontents: Anti-royal Graffiti in Downtown Bangkok,” that is authored by Serhat Ünaldi of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is available (for a fee, free to subscribers or through universities that subscribe) at the Journal of Contemporary Asia.

Our earlier post concentrated on the graffiti, whereas this post is on royal ownership of valuable property. We earlier noted that the article’s analysis of the ownership of the Rajaprasong area was interesting:

The space examined here is a major part of downtown Bangkok and borders the Khlong Saen Saeb canal in the north, Ratchadamri Road in the east, Rama I Road in the south and Phaya Thai Road in the west. Based on land ownership the area can be divided into two. The western part is privately owned by Princess Sirindhorn who, as the landlord, earns the income generated from property rents directly. The eastern section is owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) which manages the assets of the monarchy as an institution but whose generated income is “paid at the King’s pleasure” (p. 8).

As few researchers have ever dared publish on the private assets of the royals, the following bits and pieces from the article deserve attention. The dates are about acquisition/building/registration of the property or company:

An AP Photo

An AP Photo

The land owned by the princess comprises her palace Wang Sra Pathum (completed in 1916) and the sites of the surrounding commercial buildings: the Siam Kempinski Hotel (2010), the Siam Paragon shopping mall (2006), the Siam Center shopping mall (1973), the Siam Car Park (1994), the Siam Tower offices (1998) and the Siam Discovery shopping mall (1997).

 The CPB-owned land encompasses: the Isetan department store (1992), the Centara Grand Hotel (2008), the CentralWorld shopping mall (1989/2006), Zen department store (1989), the Offices at CentralWorld (2005), Chumchon Lang Wat Pathumwanaram (a slum community), Suan Pathumwananurak (an unfinished park) and the Wat Pathum Wanaram school (2007).

The dates are about acquisition/building/registration. There’s more:

… in the Siam-Ratchaprasong area the commercial interests of the monarchy are served not only by income from its properties, for Princess Sirindhorn and King Bhumibol are also major shareholders of the retail company Siam Piwat which operates the Siam shopping malls on Princess Sirindhorn’s land. The king holds 180,000 shares in Siam Piwat and the princess holds 4.32 million shares, most of them acquired from the Ministry of Finance and BankThai (now CIMB Thai Bank) in 2003 and 2005, respectively. This makes the royal family the second biggest shareholder of Siam Piwat. The family thus earns twice: from leasing out land to Siam Piwat and from their shares in the company. The princess could earn an estimated 1.68 billion baht (US$52.5 million) in annual rents from the mall and hotel operators in the “Siam” area, calculated on the basis of recent estimates of land prices in downtown Bangkok of 600 million baht per rai (1,600 m2), a total plot size of approximately 70 rai and a policy – followed by the CPB next door (Grossman 2011, 297) – of raising annual rents of 4% of a property’s market value. Moreover, in 2010, Sirindhorn’s share of Siam Piwat’s net income amounted to 145 million baht (US$4.7 million) or almost a quarter of the company’s total net income attributable to shareholders for that year.5 Siam Piwat itself subleases part of the land to the Siam Kempinski Hotel. The Siam Kempinski is owned by Kempin Siam, a joint venture between the Bahrain-based Al Manar capital group (49%), the Thai property developer Natural Park (35%) and Royal Wealth (16%) which, again, is co-owned by Al Manar and CPB Equity, a holding company which looks after the share dealings of the CPB. Interestingly, by setting up the aptly named company Royal Wealth together with Al Manar, the CPB helped the foreign capital group to increase its shareholding in Kempin Siam beyond 49% to become a majority shareholder in a Thai company. Moreover, the CPB not only co-owns Siam Kempinski, it also owns 86% of the shares of Kempinski Hotels S.A., a world-wide operating luxury hotel chain which manages the Siam Kempinski. In the mid-1990s the Dusit Thani Hotel Group and Siam Commercial Bank (SCB, of which the CPB holds a dominating 23.69%) invested in the ailing Kempinski group. After the 1997 financial crisis the CPB bought the shares from Dusit Thani and the SCB to “face-lift” the bank’s portfolio.

On the political economy of royalism and consumption, the author observes:

Royals often frequent the “Siam” malls whose appeal, through physical proximity to a royal palace, can hardly be replicated elsewhere in the city. Therefore, business success in the Siam area partly depends on the continued power of the monarchy’s sacred charisma. But while the monarchy lends its barami to the shopping malls it also symbiotically profits from them – and not just in terms of income generated from rents and shareholdings. Subtle references to the royal ties of the malls link the monarchy with the material progress of the Bangkok populace, yet carefully avoiding revealing the royal family’s direct financial interest in these commercial operations. As a place of conspicuous consumption, of Louis Vuitton and Ferrari, and as a “royal” mall, Siam Paragon is a double source of social distinction.

All-in-all, this is one academic paper that deserves broad attention and careful reading.





Anti-monarchy graffiti and royal wealth I

18 10 2013

Regular readers will know that PPT sometimes has writers who have been off trawling academic papers. Yesterday, our post included a link to a paper on populism. It was while looking for this paper that PPT came across an article that we are sure will be of considerable interest. “Working Towards the Monarchy and its Discontents: Anti-royal Graffiti in Downtown Bangkok,” is authored by Serhat Ünaldi of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. It is available (for a fee, free to subscribers or through universities that subscribe) at the Journal of Contemporary Asia.

PPT has posted on another article by the same author, on a related topic, here.

The latest article is surely about anti-royal graffiti but it is also about much more. Below we include excerpts so that readers can get a feel for the article, where the abstract states:

This article examines the desacralisation of royal charisma in contemporary Thailand. Over the past few years an underground discourse has emerged among critics of royal ideology and supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that directly confronts the power of the monarchy. The images, metaphors and linguistic devices used in the process are difficult to study because they rarely appear in public. This article focuses on an unprecedented demonstration of rage against the monarchy on September 19, 2010, when red-shirted demonstrators painted anti-royal graffiti on a construction hoarding at Ratchaprasong intersection in downtown Bangkok. In analysing the Thai political crisis as a battle of different charismatic groups, the article will present the September 19 event as the first open strike against the sacred charisma of the Thai monarchy. This charisma has hitherto been protected by royalists from all walks of life who were “working towards the monarchy.” With their attacks on the monarchy the red-shirts were challenging a legitimacy-conferring system which had benefited wide sections of the Bangkok populace in the past. At the same time, a competing charismatic movement has emerged around Thaksin, who himself has to take into account the charisma he conferred upon his followers.

We felt the charisma and Max Weber stuff was overdone in the article but we understand that academics are looking for the theoretical angle. Yet we found the empirics far more interesting. The first couple of sentences set the scene:

The spread of anti-royal graffiti in downtown Bangkok on September 19, 2010 was a watershed moment in recent Thai history that has remained almost unnoticed in analyses of the country’s political crisis. On that day, thousands of protesters donning red shirts gathered at Ratchaprasong intersection in central Bangkok. The rally took place in commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (p. 1).

PPT’s post from that day in 2010 may still be of some interest. What is certainly of interest is the focus in this new article on the anti-monarchy graffiti of that day and the analysis the author does of the ownership of the Rajaprasong area. On the latter, this is interesting:

The space examined here is a major part of downtown Bangkok…. Based on land ownership the area can be divided into two. The western part is privately owned by Princess Sirindhorn who, as the landlord, earns the income generated from property rents directly. The eastern section is owned by the Crown Property Bureau (CPB) which manages the assets of the monarchy as an institution but whose generated income is “paid at the King’s pleasure” (p. 8).

As few researchers have ever dared publish on the private assets of the royals, this account is interesting. We will save this detail for another post and here concentrate on the graffiti. Of this, Ünaldi states (p. 15):

For the purpose of this study a sample of 63 graffiti items were assembled, 51 of which appeared on September 19, 2010 on the construction fence at Ratchaprasong intersection, four at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument during a protest on October 10, 2010, and three, and five, respectively, during gatherings on November 19 and December 19, 2010.

Some of the messages from the graffiti are worth repeating, reflecting a “ta sawang/awakening” moment (p. 17):

The use of the word fa was not limited to this one graffiti but occurred frequently: fa ta diaw (one-eyed sky); fa bo kan (the sky is no barrier, …); mueng mai chai fa mang khue ma thi nasomphet (you are not the sky, [but] more likely a pathetic dog); hia sang kha fa mai mi ta phro fa ta bot (the “monitor lizard” ordered the killings – the sky has no eyes because the sky is blind). Like hia, ma (dog) is one of the strongest insults in the Thai language.

More attacks on the monarchy related to ownership, stewardship and sufficiency (p. 18):

“the country does not progress because there are no good people. Bad people were taken to rule the land because heaven has no eyes, because the eyes are blind. [They] see damn animals [ai sat] as good people. I ask for real, you damn blind man [ai bot],when will you die?” Some red shirts were aware that their protest site was owned by the monarchy and suspected this to be the reason for their violent expulsion from the area in May: thi khong khot pho-mae mueng rue thueng ma kho khuen phuen-thi (Does the area belong to your ancestors so that you demand it back?). By painting some graffiti on the asphalt of the street the red shirts marked Ratchaprasong as their territory: ku khoey non yu thi ni [I once slept here]. Other street artists took issue with the king’s sufficiency economy: kha daeng yang pho-phiang (killed enough/sufficient red [shirts]); pho-phiang tae ku yang mai pho kin (sufficiency but I didn’t have enough to eat). To this commentator, the idea of sufficiency seemed to sound cynical given his or her own struggle for survival. Next to the official sign for the sufficiency economy on the fence at Ratchaprasong one red shirt commented ironically: pho-phiang ko mai tong tham bai (sufficiency, so don’t produce a poster). These comments were probably the strongest signal of the breakdown of royal charisma: The king was no longer seen as benefiting the people and his “sufficiency economy” model was debunked.

Queen Sirikit was a target for graffiti (p. 19):

Red-shirts poked fun at her weight, her makeup and rumours about her involvement in the disappearance of the “Blue Diamond,” a gem which was stolen in 1989 from the Saudi Arabian royal family. Several items depicted the queen as a blue whale, hiding a gemstone in her mouth. Next to one such painting someone had written: Sa-u ha phet mai joe khrai ru bang (the Saudis are looking in vain for a diamond. Who knows anything?). Another graffiti mimicked the prohibition signs on the fence and depicted a crossed out whale, adding khet plot pla-wan (whale-free area). Someone else had written: Ai bot kap i pla-wan jombongkan tua jing (The damn blind man and the damn whale woman are the real dictators).

This is certainly a paper worth reading. In our next post we will look at what this paper says about property and royal wealth.





Comparing kings

7 11 2012

Readers will certainly be interested in a new paper published at the open-access Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. Serhat Ünaldi has an article entitled “Modern Monarchs and Democracy: Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej and Juan Carlos of Spain,” which can be downloaded as a PDF. The abstract says:

The history of democracy is typically a history of struggle against monarchs and other such autocrats. The elevation of one person over others by virtue of blood and birth has come to be seen as anachronistic; yet some monarchies have managed to survive to this day. This paper analyses two examples of the uneasy coalition between popular sovereignty and royal leadership that is constitutional monarchy. Whereas Juan Carlos of Spain has been described as having steered Spain away from dictatorship, Bhumibol of Thailand has come under scrutiny for allegedly lacking a principled approach to democracy. I argue that structural as much as personal factors influenced the ways in which the two monarchies were legitimised – one by positively responding to the modern aspirations of the king’s subjects, giving him a “forward legitimacy,” the other by revitalising the king’s traditional charisma and opting for “backward legitimacy.”








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